Dental FAQ

Mom and baby

When should I first take my child to the dentist?

From 12 months of age or within 6 months of the eruption of the first baby tooth! Both the American Academy of Pediatrics & the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend this age for the first dental visit.

Benefits of an early dental visit:
  • Your family can establish a "dental home" for your child.
  • Your child will become accustomed to the child-friendly environment at the dentist's office.
  • Your pediatric dentist can discuss ways to prevent tooth decay, giving you the tools to stop cavities before they start.
  • Cavities can form in baby teeth at any age; should your child develop cavities, early treatment will prevent potential infections, abscesses, and/or damage to the developing permanent teeth.

What is the difference between a pediatric dentist and my "adult" dentist?

  • General dentists and pediatric dentists are trained and qualified in diagnosing and treating children.
  • Pediatric dentists differ from general dentists in that they complete 2 years of extra training after dental school to learn more about how to best treat children.

What causes cavities?

  • There are many factors involved in cavity formation
  • Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood!
  • The actual cavities are formed by acids generated from bacteria when they are exposed to carbohydrates, especially sugar.
  • These bacteria are often passed from parents and caretakers to their infants.
  • Therefore, it is very important that parents and caretakers have regular dental checkups and take care of their teeth as well!

How can I prevent my child from getting cavities?

Take care of your own teeth!

  • It is recommended that you begin brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as the first one comes in.
  • Use a thin smear of toothpaste with fluoride until your child is 2 years old.
  • After your child turns 2, you should begin using a small dab (the size of a baby pea) of toothpaste with fluoride and encourage your child to spit after brushing.
  • It is important to use the recommended amount of toothpaste with fluoride, as swallowing too much fluoride before the age of 8 years old may cause stains to form in the permanent teeth.
  • Any adjacent baby teeth that are touching are ready for flossing!
Start early with good dietary habits
  • Feed your child healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and protein.
  • Help keep your child hydrated by giving him/her water to drink between meals.
  • Give your child plenty of milk to drink to help build healthy bones and teeth.
  • Give your child soda and watered-down juice / sports drinks in regular drinking cups and in moderation.
  • Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.
  • Wean your child from bottle use and/or at will breast feeding around his/her first birthday.
  • Only put water or milk in his/her sippy cup.

Open dental bay

Is Fluoride good for my child's teeth?

  • Fluoride can help fight future cavities by strengthening tooth enamel.
  • Fluoride mainly works when it comes into contact with enamel.
  • Vitamins containing fluoride and fluoride tablets that are swallowed are less effective at preventing decay and may increase the risk of fluorosis, which can lead to staining of permanent teeth.
  • Mouth rinses with fluoride can be of benefit to children at risk for dental decay who are old enough to rinse and spit (usually children 6 years old and up).

Is it OK for my child to use a pacifier or suck his/her thumb?

  • Yes - it is normal for children to explore their world by placing everything in his/her mouth, including a pacifier or a thumb up to age 3.
  • Around age 3 is the time to take note and gently encourage your child to stop; be careful about pushing your young one to stop too hard; sometimes this can have the opposite effect, as kids will rebel.
  • Some suggest that a pacifier habit is easier to break than a thumb habit, because you can throw a pacifier away.
  • You can also try positive reinforcement or you can ignore your child while he/she is sucking and only respond when the sucking stops.
  • Some people have reported success with painting the nails with a bitter tasting liquid or hot peppers.
  • A helpful trick to wean your child off a pacifier is to progressively cut off small pieces of the tip each week until, eventually, the entire nipple is gone.
  • Prolonged oral habits may cause your child's upper front baby teeth to flare out and give the appearance of an "overbite".
  • If your child continues to have an oral habit past age 6, the permanent teeth will likely become affected, and you should discuss a plan to help your child stop the habit with the dentist.

When will my child get his/her first tooth?

  • On average, the first baby tooth comes in at 6 months of age; this is usually a lower front tooth.
  • There are 20 baby teeth all together; the last ones to come in usually emerge around age 2.
  • Permanent teeth start to come in around age 6, usually starting with the 6-year molars.
  • The remaining permanent teeth (except for wisdom teeth) come in between ages 6 and 13; this age group keeps the tooth fairy very busy.

When can my child start brushing his/her teeth without my help?

  • Usually around age 6
  • Up until that point, children are still developing their motor skills and, even if they try their hardest, they don't have the ability to remove all of the dental plaque from their teeth.
  • To encourage your child's independence and development of good oral habits, it is recommended that you allow your child to first brush his/her teeth on his/her own; then you can follow and make sure all the "hard to reach spots" are sparkly clean!

Is there any candy I can give my child without being reprimanded by the dentist?

  • As far as sugar goes, like most things in life, the key is moderation.
  • Some gums and candy contain xylitol, a natural sweetener that can actually prevent tooth decay!

If my child has a cavity in a baby tooth, do I really need to get it filled? Won't it just fall out eventually anyway?

You already know the answer to this one... cavities in baby teeth require treatment.

Untreated tooth decay can lead to:
  • Pain - which may then lead to missed school and even malnutrition
  • Infection - baby teeth can become infected, causing damage to the developing permanent teeth and may even lead to a potentially life-threatening swelling
  • Space Loss - untreated decay in baby teeth may lead to the premature loss of that tooth, which holds space for the future permanent tooth; if the baby tooth is lost early, the back teeth will drift forward, leading to future crowding

Boy brushing teeth

What is a sealant?

  • Sealants consist of a plastic coating placed in the pits and grooves of teeth as an attempt to prevent decay from starting and/or progressing in these areas, which is where the vast majority of tooth decay occurs.
  • Sealants require upkeep in order to perform their duty; over time, portions of the sealants may break off and require a "touch up" to ensure the tooth is protected.
  • It is important to note that sealants have their limitations; while sealants aim to prevent decay in pits and grooves, other parts of teeth can only be protected from decay with good diet and oral hygiene practices!

What can I do to help my child with teething?

  • Teething is one of those unfortunate stages all kids must go through.
  • The best things for teething are the frozen teething rings and Tylenol (acetaminophen), although you may wish they were even more effective.
  • Topical anesthetics (ex. Orajel) are not recommended.

My child fell and bumped/knocked out his/her front teeth. What do I do now?

  • Call Dr. Lesley immediately, as some treatments for dental traumas have a better prognosis if treated early.
  • If your child has knocked out a permanent tooth, immediately place the tooth in milk (skim, 1%, 2%, or whole milk are all fine).
  • After treatment, it is often difficult to predict how your child's body will react to the trauma long-term; damage may occur at the time of the trauma or it may occur later on from inflammation in the area.
  • Be on the lookout for changes in color (yellowing, darkening), sensitivity, looseness, or infection, which may appear as a "bubble" on the gums or "gum boil".
  • If your child hit his/her baby tooth, there is always a chance that the developing permanent tooth could be damaged in some way (most often damage appears as a small discoloration or defect on the permanent tooth); if this occurs, treatment for the permanent (if needed) can wait until the permanent teeth come in.